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The year is 1938.
An L.A. airfield sees
The handsome pilot Cliff Secord
Take off into the breeze.
But down below two thieving thugs
Are fleeing from the feds.
They try protecting what they stole
As lead flies round their heads.
When Cliff’s new plane is shot and wrecked,
The feds simply maintain
The gear was trashed, but rather it was
Hidden in a plane.
Then Cliff and his pal Peevy learn
What every viewer knows:
They find that it’s a jet pack, which
Might solve their money woes.
An air show headed for a crash
Prompts Cliff to join the fray
By strapping on the rocket pack
To bravely save the day.
But Neville Sinclair, an acting star,
Desires that rocket pack
And tells his gangster henchmen to
Directly bring it back.
Unsure that they can do it,
Sinclair calls one of his staff
Named Lothar, who is very skilled
At folding men in half.
But Sinclair learns Cliff has the pack,
And, skilled at being fake,
He starts to woo Cliff’s girlfriend,
The most lovely Jenny Blake.
The FBI and Lothar start
To close in on the pair,
Who flee with their new rocket pack,
Which Peevy can repair.
While Cliff enjoys the jet pack,
Being dubbed the Rocketeer,
His friend insists the risks demand
They get it out of here.
Confronted by the mobster gang,
Cliff’s friends defend their chum.
He flies off with a bullet hole
Patched up with chewing gum.
He reaches Jenny, on a date
With ever suave Sinclair,
And warns her to escape posthaste
Before the mob gets there.
Cliff’s almost trapped but breaks away,
Yet Jenny’s caught nearby.
When she awakes, she’s shocked to learn
Sinclair’s a Nazi spy.
The feds take Cliff to Howard Hughes,
Who built the rocket pack,
But Cliff says he must save his girl
Before he gives it back.
The planned exchange, the girl for it,
Becomes an odd affair.
The gangsters dislike Nazi spies
And turn against Sinclair.
A shootout ends up with Sinclair
And Lothar in a blimp,
With Jenny as their captive still,
But Cliff Secord’s no wimp.
He flies aboard yet gives Sinclair
The rocket for his dame.
When Cliff takes off the chewing gum,
Sinclair bursts into flame.
The airship quickly burns away,
Erasing Sinclair’s crime,
But Hughes and Peevy hover in
To save them just in time.
Since Cliff and Jenny are both safe,
Hughes gives a new plane back,
And Peevy plans perhaps to build
Another rocket pack.

The Rocketeer is unique among superhero movies because it is also a period piece, complete with vintage art and antique cars and planes. Indeed, the only similarly retro superhero film I know of is the much more recent Captain America: The First Avenger, which coincidentally enough shares the same director, Joe Johnston. Basing the characters and several scenes off of The Rocketeer comic book, Johnston (who must like rockets, having also directed October Sky) managed to weave together the nostalgia of the 1930s with some interesting action scenes and a surprisingly complex plotline. The motives of Neville Sinclair, played by the ever sophisticated Timothy Dalton, are not immediately evident, and the final reveal does come somewhat as a surprise. The final showdown with the awesome destruction of the dirigible is the best set piece of them all, and the last action scene is truly breathtaking.

The acting is serviceable at best. While Billy Campbell as Cliff Secord, Jennifer Connolly as Jenny Blake, and Alan Arkin as Peevy do a decent job, the characters themselves are rather forgettable and don’t really measure up to those in Marvel’s films. That being said, (Lost alert!) I loved seeing Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes, having seen him as John Locke in all six seasons of Lost. Typical of comic book films, Dalton as the villain is the most memorable of the cast.

As with some other recent movies on my list, the pacing is a tad slow. Heck, Cliff doesn’t actually take off with the jet pack until 41 minutes into the film! The sheer number of characters also makes the plot hard to follow at times. I nevertheless applaud Disney for not filling the movie with unnecessary language or violence; their absence made it much more enjoyable to watch. While it certainly isn’t among the very best superhero movies, The Rocketeer has enough action, humorous moments and lines, and singular nostalgia for the old pulp serials of yesteryear to deserve a place on my list.

Best line: (Cliff, putting on his rather silly-looking helmet) “How do I look?” (Peevy) “Like a hood ornament.”

Artistry: 6
Characters/Actors: 4
Entertainment: 7
Visual Effects: 7
Originality: 7
Watchability: 7
Other (pacing): -4
TOTAL: 34 out of 60

Next: #270: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

© 2014 S. G. Liput